Amid China’s aggressive push to increase its Pacific sphere of influence, the US and its allies — Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the United Kingdom — have launched a new initiative called ‘Partners in the Blue Pacific’ for “effective and efficient cooperation” with the region’s small island nations.
What is Partners in the Blue Pacific (PBP) initiative?
- The PBP is a five-nation “informal mechanism” to support Pacific islands and to boost diplomatic, economic ties in the region.
- Announced on June 24, it speaks of enhancing “prosperity, resilience, and security” in the Pacific through closer cooperation.
- It simply means that through the PBP, these counties — together and individually — will direct more resources here to counter China’s aggressive outreach.
- The initiative members have also declared that they will “elevate Pacific regionalism”, and forge stronger ties with the Pacific Islands Forum.
- In a joint statement released to announce the initiative, the five member nations said that the forum remains open to cooperating with additional partners, adding that “at every stage, we will be led and guided by the Pacific Islands. We will seek Pacific guidance on the PBP’s selection of its lines of effort and its flagship projects”.
- The areas where PBP aims to enhance cooperation include “climate crisis, connectivity and transportation, maritime security and protection, health, prosperity, and education”.
How is China trying to transform its ties in the Pacific?
- As China signed a security pact with Solomon Islands in April, the deal flagged serious concerns about the Chinese military getting a base in the southern Pacific, close to the US island territory of Guam, and right next to Australia and New Zealand.
- The deal, which boosted Beijing’s quest to dominate crucial shipping lanes criss-crossing the region, rattled the US and its allies. It also triggered urgent moves to counter China’s growing Pacific ambition amid a power vacuum fuelled by apparent lack of US attention.
- But Beijing followed up on that win with its Foreign Minister Wang Yi undertaking a multi-nation tour to push 10 Pacific nations to endorse a “game-changing” agreement called the “Common Development Vision”. It says that China wants to work with “traditional and non-traditional security,” and expand law enforcement cooperation with these countries.
What is being done by the US and its allies to counter China?
- Before launching the PBP this month, the US and its partners started the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), a trade-boosting play in the region with 13 nations — Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Fiji and Vietnam — as partners.
- Away from the Pacific, the G7 announced a plan — Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII) — to rival China’s Belt and Road Initiative by promising to raise $600 billion to fund development projects in low and middle-income countries.